Putting each other first in every stage of life

By the time you read this article Karen and I will have celebrated 36 years of marriage and as I write these words I realize how far into the fourth decade of our life together we are!

When we embarked on our journey of marriage all those years ago we were inspired by the words of the poet, Robert Browning who wrote:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be…

It wasn’t a pipe dream that we shared. We had a genuine desire expressed through our marriage vows to continue to grow in our love for each other through every stage of life.

And there have been many stages!

There were the early years where we did not have much money but somehow (with God’s help!) we managed to get by.

Then came the parenting years where we learned to juggle work commitments with the demands of growing children as well as carving out time for ourselves.

Navigating the teenage years was never dull. Everything from staying up until 2.00am, waiting for your child to get home from camp, he or she having driven there for the first time, through to meeting the young man who would like to date your daughter. (Always an interesting experience!)

Then suddenly, you find that all of your children have either married or left home and you enter the phase known as “empty nesters”. I have learned that this term is actually a myth because grandchildren start arriving and they all seem to find their way to Gramps and Grammy’s house!

Our nest is rarely empty these days!

Here’s the thing. I can honestly say that I love my wife more deeply now than I ever have and she can say the same about her feelings for me.

I do not say this to boast or to gloat.

Because of the nature of my work I come into contact with many marriages where couples are living lives of “quiet desperation” and there is no sense at all of deep connection with each other.

The last thing I want to do here is to give the impression that we have it all together, because we do not.

So despite our imperfections, why can I say that our love continues to grow?

The following thoughts come to mind.

From the outset of our marriage we decided that after God, the most important relationship in our lives was our marriage.

We love our children, grandchildren and our friends. But none of those relationships has ever taken precedence over ours. (This also includes our work life).

Far too many relationships come to grief because couples pour all of their energy into these other areas only to realize, too late, that when these are gone, they are left with a husband or wife that they barely know.

We have made time for each other.

Whether it was time at the end of each day catching up with each other or going out together, quantity and quality time as a couple has been a priority for us and we reap the benefits of this today.

We have also prayed together.

This has become a sharper focus for us in more recent years and we have found through sharing with each other about what God is doing in our lives, our intimacy has grown deep.

Praying for each other about “life stuff” always enhances intimacy.

Simple things like these have enabled us to walk the path happily of growing old together.

It can happen for you as well and it doesn’t mean that you have to do what we do. Discover what will work for you and above all, start doing it!

Because Robert Browning was right – the best is yet to be!

God can make a difference in your marriage

God can make a difference in your marriage.

I know this from firsthand experience.

Karen and I both come from dysfunctional family backgrounds, so even before we were married we made a commitment to God and each other that we would work hard to not repeat the mistakes of previous generations of our families of origin.

What difference has God made for me personally in my marriage?

I have discovered the joy of loving my wife sacrificially.

Husbands are instructed to “love their wives” and it is the kind of love that is willing to put the other person’s needs ahead of your own, to be willing to serve that person and to consider their interests before your own.

This kind of love does not come easily, especially when you are in the heat of an argument and your wife (you believe) is being unreasonable!

So, the only way I can possibly love like this is to ask God to help me. The perfect example of sacrificial love is seen in His Son Jesus who gave up His own life for us when we did not deserve it.

My default button drifts toward selfishness when I am under pressure so I need the occasional reminder that I also, am not perfect but God still loves me anyway!

I have learned that honesty is liberating in marriage.

I am talking here about honesty with your wife about where you are “at.” There have been times in my marriage where I have thought it best to not share with Karen what I might be struggling with at any given moment. It’s not that I have sought to be deceptive or tried to hide things from her – I just did not want to cause her unnecessary worry or concern.

This is not a good policy!

Firstly, if I do not share with her then I miss out on one of the greatest privileges of marriage. That of being supported, cared and prayed for by my best friend. As Solomon wisely said, “two are better than one” because they can lean on each other in the storms of life.

Secondly, Karen can read me like a book, so there is no point in me trying to simply soldier on!

I have found that good communication develops greater intimacy between us.

One of the great descriptions of marriage is the Biblical statement that a husband “knew” his wife. When we read this, we immediately think of the sexual relationship yet there is so much more to this word than simply sex.

To “know” carries with it the ideas of knowing the other person emotionally, spiritually and intellectually.

The word underlines the very essence of what a relationship is all about – to my wife for the person she truly is, to see her more deeply than others see her and to see what no one else sees: the beautiful person God created her to be.

Which is the way God sees me; the person I really am. So, what I learn through my relationship with God changes, for the good, the way I relate to my wife.

And the only way that I can truly know Karen well is to talk with her, listen to her, share with her, dream with her, cry with her and laugh with her.

I experience what God described as “oneness” in marriage.

This oneness does not happen overnight. When a couple is married they begin a lifelong journey toward oneness and there will be the inevitable ups and downs along that journey.

But they do not travel that road alone. If they are both committed to God, He goes before them, encouraging, nurturing and shaping them into the people He wants them to be.

And the result is oneness – a true unity of body, mind, heart and soul.

God can make a difference in your marriage – why not let Him start today?

The bridge of forgiveness

May is the month in which we honour our Mums, but I also like to think it is a good opportunity for us to show our appreciation for women in general. (And not just once a year – showing respect and care for women is something that should be a natural part of our lifestyle, regardless of our age or gender)!

And one of the women I admire the most is a lady whose story I first read about over 40 years ago – the late Corrie ten Boom.

Corrie and her family gave shelter to Jews in their home in Haarlem, Netherlands during WW2.

When their activities were discovered, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Nazi Concentration camps.

Betsie died in the camp but Corrie was miraculously released and after the war she went on to speak to countless people around the world about the love, forgiveness and grace of God.

She also wrote about her own very personal encounter with forgiveness:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’

His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I who had preached so often to people …of the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus,’ I prayed, ‘forgive me and help me to forgive him.’

I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.’

As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that bitterness and resentment destroys relationships and I have seen many times how this has fatally eroded marriages.

Philip Yancey said:

Ungrace causes cracks to fissure open between mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, between scientists, and prisoners, and tribes, and races. Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail rope-bridge of forgiveness.

Faced with her hurtful past and former tormentor that day in Munich, Corrie ten Boom chose to travel the path of forgiveness and both she and the man before her were set free.

How are your relationships today, especially your marriage?

Faced with past hurts and angry words, will you choose to hang on to them or will you choose to forgive?

He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.

Perhaps it is time for you to take a walk over the bridge of forgiveness.

Living free of regret

“I HAS NO REGRETS!”

If you have seen the film, The BFG, you will know that this is the response of the evil, human-eating giant, Fleshlumpeater, when he is asked by Sophie if he is sorry for all the bad things he has done.

Regret is one of those emotions that eats away silently at our souls and rare indeed is the person who has no regrets.

Regret is so damaging to our well-being it compelled one author to state:
Regret empties anticipation, flattens dreams, and suffocates hope, because regret is a form of self-punishment … regret beats us up with the past.

I have come to realise that I have lived for far too long with many regrets and like the quote above says, they have beaten me up.

Many of you reading this understand precisely what I mean.

A father and son argue heatedly with each other and the father shouts out, “You’re not my son! I disown you!”

The door slams furiously as the son walks out and father and son never speak to each other again.

In the midst of a tense confrontation a husband spits out at his wife, “I wish I had never married you” and he opens a wound of rejection in her that may never heal.

A young girl rues the day she gossiped behind her friend’s back, wishing she could have the moment over, to take it all back.

Or a demanding mother with high expectations for her children makes it clear that she regards them as “failures” and an embarrassment to her.

Regret comes in all sizes, takes many forms and more often than not, it involves broken relationships.

Regret keeps us up at night, forcing us to maintain a sleepless vigil as we rehearse our failures and shortcomings over and over in our minds.

Bear in mind, I am not talking about hindsight.

Hindsight is that wonderful gift which enables us to process the mistakes from our past in a healthy way and, importantly, to learn from them.

I remember the time I stuck my finger into a live electrical light socket at my grandmother’s home, wondering what would happen.

I soon learned and the subsequent jolt I received taught me a valuable lesson: “I will never do that again!”

Hindsight enables us to learn from our past mistakes.

Regret wants to keep us imprisoned by them.

Consider then, how Jesus deals with regret.

On that first Easter, there are regrets aplenty!

Judas, betrayer of Jesus, filled with remorse, dies a lonely, despairing death by his own hand.

Peter is humiliated and ashamed.

Once the proud boaster who said he would follow Jesus anywhere and even die with him, he is haunted by the words that fell from his lips, three times, no less:
“I do not know the man!”

And two walk a dusty road together, filled with sorrow over the death of Jesus and what might have been.

But in the middle of all this sorrow, Jesus bursts out of the grave alive, confronting everyone’s regret and changing things forever.

Peter is restored.

Two travellers have their hope renewed.

Disciples are commissioned.

“The time for regret is over” says Jesus. “Now take this message of hope to the whole world!”

Here is what I am discovering.

I do not have to be held hostage by my regrets!

Because not only did Jesus die for my past mistakes, he completely obliterated them – and yours – when He rose from the dead!

In that decisive act, our past failures were dealt with once and for all and he has given us new life.

This changes everything, including our relationships.

We cannot change the past, but we can live free from it.

And we change our present when we rest in the fact that because of Jesus, regret can no longer “beat us up!”

Reconciliation starts with you

IN NOVEMBER, 1990 I was standing in Pearl Harbour listening to an elderly, retired United States navy man tell his story about the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.

I had joined a free, guided tour around the harbour and the scene of the United States’ entry into World War Two.

Our guide was around 19 years of age at the time of the attack and as he retold his story the day I was there, he also spoke of the anger and rage he felt as he fired round after round into the sky at enemy planes.

Then he said something that caught my attention.

“Folks”, he asked kindly, “Have you ever felt like you are out of the will of God?”

Given the silence of the rest of the group around me, he obviously had their attention as well!

He went on to explain that in that very moment of anger, death and destruction, he knew he was out of the will of God!

Quite a statement from an elderly man to a group of tourists.

He then told us how he had signed up to the navy despite the fact he knew God had called him to be a preacher.

So, upon the conclusion of the War, having been discharged from the Navy, he obeyed God and became a Presbyterian minister for the rest of his life.

Then came the punchline to his story.

He went on to tell how one of the Japanese pilots bombing Pearl Harbour also became a committed Christian and minister after the war.

Decades later, the two former enemies met with the Japanese pastor preaching in the old navy man’s church in Hawaii!

As he brought his story to its conclusion, he held up a photograph of the two men, once alienated by culture, hatred and ideology, now embracing each other and reconciled before the Cross that stood in the church.

Every one of us is living in a world divided bitterly along racial, political and ideological lines.

News services bring us reports every day of nations at war with each other or the latest violent protest over an unpopular decision.

And we read of relational breakdowns in marriages and families that all too often end with murder or suicide as the only “solution”.

Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, once commented:

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

When a marriage breaks down, it is all too easy to blame the other person, thinking he or she needs to change.

But as Solzhenitsyn points out, “good and evil” courses through the heart of every human being.

Blaming the other person will not reconcile us.

Ignoring or trying to change the past will not reconcile us.

Mere words will not reconcile us.

But Jesus will.

That is the point of the Cross. There a dying thief finds reconciliation and peace with God.

There a man, Peter, who denies his Lord, finds reconciliation.

And there I have found peace and reconciliation – with my sin, my past, with people and with God. I still struggle a lot and I don’t always love people as well as I should.

But I know this: reconciliation begins with me, reaching out to people who at times both annoy and drive me crazy but with the sincere hope that perhaps they will see Jesus in me and be reconciled to Him.

Is your marriage in trouble?

My prayer for you is that you will ask Jesus to bring His peace to your hungry and wounded soul.

Then take the first step yourself to reconcile with your husband or wife.

Enough for me … enough for you!

FOR A FEW YEARS now my wife Karen has selected a word to meditate upon and use as a theme for her life throughout the year to come. It is an enriching experience because it serves to focus her thoughts, prayers and actions at a personal level and in her relationships with others, including me!

As I reflect on my own life over the past twelve months, the word “enough” is a great description of how my life has been.

During this past year, God led me into the wilderness again, and along the way, He turned my thoughts to Psalm 63, written by David when he too, found himself in the wilderness.

David recalls moments when he has seen God’s power and glory – God Himself – in the house of worship (verses 2-5). He writes,

“I have beheld…your power and your glory…”

“What was it he saw?” I wonder. “And when have I seen evidence of God’s power and glory in my life?”

More importantly, David saw God in the sanctuary. I take this to mean that God Himself is the One we seek, a greater blessing by far than His acts of power and glory.

So right there in the wilderness, David chooses to praise and rejoice in God. His will be a life of constant praise and of giving glory to God with his words and songs. And the reason for all of this is a quite remarkable statement in verse 3-

“Because your love is better than life…”

To know the love of God in your life, and the peace, comfort and security this brings, is a greater gift than life itself, even in the wilderness. For David, this is enough –

“God Himself is enough for me and my soul is satisfied.” (v5)

The message for me was straightforward enough: “No matter what I might be facing right now, God is all I need!”

The Christmas/New Year period can be a very lonely one fore many people. They suffer through the break up of a marriage, family or friendship that “came out of left field!”

“I didn’t see it coming…” is a sad, but often heard refrain from many broken-hearted souls.

The devastation of losing someone that you had invested yourself in so completely can leave you feeling as if you will never recover or be a whole person again.

If that is you right now, I want you to know that there is real hope. Your circumstances may not change, but I can assure you that God has not forgotten you, He loves you deeply and He can be enough for you.

I am learning, in my times of being in the wilderness, to choose

To live a life of constant praise to my Father and to thank Him every day.
To live my life for His glory.
Above all, to rest in the peace, comfort and security of God’s love for me.

In the wilderness, I find I am able to tell God how much I love Him; I can thank Him for every good gift in my life – His love, family, friends, life itself – and for teaching me again about humility and my need to depend utterly on Him.

In this my soul is satisfied – in and with God Himself.

He is enough … and He can be enough for you!

A Story to Write

write

WHENEVER I hear Francesca Battistelli sing “Write Your Story” I’m captivated by the idea that God is the Author of my life and He has a beautiful story that He longs to write on every page of the book of my life. And sometimes His story for my life has twists and turns that I would not have included if I was in charge of the writing!

They say
You’re the King of everything
The One who taught the wind to sing
The Source of the rhythm my heart keeps beating

They say
You can give the blind their sight
And You can bring the dead to life
You can be the hope my soul’s been seekin’

I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I do, that You can make me new, oh

I’m an empty page
I’m an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won’t You write Your story on my heart

This was certainly true for a young couple who found themselves in the middle of a story that neither of them could have ever imagined.

The bride found herself pregnant outside of wedlock. The groom was not the father but being an honourable man he still went ahead with the marriage. Together they had to endure the sting of the whispered innuendos and pious smirks of people that are so often prevalent in small towns. And in the midst of it all, right at the moment when the baby was due, they had to make a long and difficult journey to fulfil a Government demand for taxation purposes.

I am quite certain that an unexpected pregnancy, public humiliation and giving birth to a child in a filthy stable would not have formed the major plotline had Joseph and Mary been writing the story of their lives. But it was a part of God’s story. In fact, it was a part of God’s story for the whole world!

This story of God’s – the coming of Jesus as Saviour and Lord of the world – had been written eons ago, deep in His heart. It is His response to a creation that had decided they would be responsible for the story of their lives, not the Author of Life. In fact, His story about Jesus was written long before they decided to go their own way.

It is a story as the song above suggests, about a Man who came to give the blind their sight back, life and restoration in place of death and hope to the desperate soul. It is a story that says no matter what the plotline of your life looks like up to this point – pages of wasted, desperate and lonely years – that plotline can be changed when you invite Jesus to become the Author.

No matter how bad your plotline has been, He can make your story new!

And don’t think that when you invite Jesus to be the Author of your life that your new story will be pain and trouble free – just ask Mary and Joseph! There will be twists and turns in the plot that you will never have anticipated but because you can trust the Author, you can also trust Him with where the story is headed. Mary and Joseph discovered this.

On the night Jesus was born the sky was filled with the voices of a myriad angels, singing the praises of the Majestic Author and Creator of the greatest, true story ever told and announcing that the Saviour of all people, everywhere, had come into the world.

They had joy because they submitted in trust to the Author! So, whose story is being written on your heart..?

The mind reader!

mind

I have a bad habit that I need to confess to. It has got me into trouble more times than I can remember and sometimes it has caused great pain to people I love dearly.

I read minds. There, I said it!

What I mean is that when I am in a conversation with someone, instead of listening to what they might be really saying, I tell myself, “I know what you’re thinking” and I base my response to them on my faulty assumption.

It’s a nasty habit.

I end up believing things about the person that are not true and my wrong assumptions have also caused unnecessary hurt in my relationships.

I have hurt my wife Karen at times when I have “read her mind” instead of allowing our conversation to flow in a natural and open way.

And I have also been hurt by others who have attempted a little mind reading with me.

It’s a nasty habit.

I have found that it has been a difficult one to break and my progress has been slow over the years. But I have also discovered some incredibly simple tools that I have endeavoured to put into practice and they have made an amazing difference in my conversations with others.

If I find myself beginning to “mind read” someone I will now ask them a question along the lines of, “Can I check out an assumption I have?” or even just “Can I check something with you please?”

In effect, I am asking their permission to read their mind! But if the person is willing to answer my question honestly then I am more likely to hear what they really think and respond to them accordingly, rather than basing all of my responses on what I think I know.

Asking a simple question like this clears up a lot of confusion, prevents misunderstanding and promotes healthy, honest conversation.

It also saves me from a lot of foolish anger because I am no longer basing my attitude on negative thoughts that are designed to bring the other person down in my mind.

An old proverb warns us of the danger of mind reading when it says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions…”

The second tool is also in the form of a question and is asked as a follow up to the first one.

“I think that you think…Is that correct?” or “I’m wondering…is that correct?”

If the answer is no, then things have been cleared up.

If the answer is yes, then it will lead to further positive conversation!

If all of this sounds simplistic or childish to you, then I would caution you to think again with the following true story.

At a marriage seminar we led, Karen gave the couples present an exercise based on these questions around mind reading in relationships.

As she moved around the tables to see how they were each doing, one lady admitted to Karen that she had just worked up the courage to ask her husband about an assumption she believed about him for twenty years.

She discovered that she had been wrong and that she had been hanging on to much unnecessary hurt for all of that time!

A whole new world of communication for this couple was opened up that afternoon through two simple, but powerful questions.

Relationships in our world are dogged by wrong assumptions and the faulty things that we have come to believe about each other.

We see it every day in TV programs, social media, friends, families and husbands and wives.

But there is a better way and it starts with the courage to ask two simple questions that begin with:

“Can I check…?” and “I think that…Is it true?”?